Transcript of "Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler (1970)"
Comments on FUTURE SHOCKC. P. Snow: "Remarkable ... No one ought to have the nerve to pontificate on our presentworries without reading it."R. Buckminster Fuller: "Cogent ... brilliant ... I hope vast numbers will read Tofflersbook."Betty Friedan: "Brilliant and true ... Should be read by anyone with the responsibility ofleading or participating in movements for change in America today."Marshall McLuhan: "FUTURE SHOCK ... is where its at."Robert Rimmer, author of The Harrad Experiment: "A magnificent job ... Must reading."John Diebold: "For those who want to understand the social and psychologicalimplications of the technological revolution, this is an incomparable book."WALL STREET JOURNAL: "Explosive ... Brilliantly formulated."LONDON DAILY EXPRESS: "Alvin Toffler has sent something of a shock-wavethrough Western society."LE FIGARO: "The best study of our times that I know ... Of all the books that I have readin the last 20 years, it is by far the one that has taught me the most."THE TIMES OF INDIA: "To the elite ... who often get committed to age-old institutionsor material goals alone, let Tofflers FUTURE SHOCK be a lesson and a warning."MANCHESTER GUARDIAN: "An American book that will ... reshape our thinking evenmore radically than Galbraiths did in the 1950s ... The book is more than a book, and itwill do more than send reviewers raving ... It is a spectacular outcrop of a formidable,organized intellectual effort ... For the first time in history scientists are marrying theinsights of artists, poets, dramatists, and novelists to statistical analysis and operationalresearch. The two cultures have met and are being merged. Alvin Toffler is one of thefirst exhilarating, liberating results."CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: "Packed with ideas, explanations, constructivesuggestions ... Revealing, exciting, encouraging, brilliant."NEWSWEEK: "In the risky business of social and cultural criticism, there appears anoccasional book that manages—through some happy combination of accident andinsight—to shape our perceptions of its times. One thinks of America in the 1950s, forexample, largely in terms of David Riesmans The Lonely Crowd and John KennethGalbraiths The Affluent Society, while Michael Harringtons The Other America helpedfocus the concerns of the early 1960s. And now Alvin Tofflers immensely readable yetdisquieting study may serve the same purpose for our own increasingly volatile world:even before reading the book, one is ready to acknowledge the point of the title—that wesuffer from future shock."
For Sam, Rose, Heidi and Karen,My closest links with time ...
CONTENTSIntroduction 1PART ONE: THE DEATH OF PERMANENCE 7Chapter 1.THE 800th LIFETIME 9 The Unprepared Visitor 10 Break with the Past 12Chapter 2. THE ACCELERATIVE THRUST 19 Time and Change 20 Subterranean Cities 22 The Technological Engine 25 Knowledge as Fuel 30 The Flow of Situations 32Chapter 3. THE PACE OF LIFE 36 People of the Future 37 Durational Expectancy 42 The Concept of Transience 44PART TWO: TRANSIENCE 49Chapter 4. THINGS: THE THROW-AWAY SOCIETY 51 The Paper Wedding Gown 52 The Missing Supermarket 55 The Economics of Impermanence 56 The Portable Playground 58 The Modular "Fun Palace" 59 The Rental Revolution 63 Temporary Needs 67 The Fad Machine 71Chapter 5. PLACES: THE NEW NOMADS 74 The 3,000,000-Mile Club 75 Flamenco in Sweden 77 Migration to the Future 80 Suicides and Hitch-hikers 83 The Mournful Movers 87 The Homing Instinct 89 The Demise of Geography 91Chapter 6. PEOPLE: THE MODULAR MAN 95 The Cost of Involvement 96 The Duration of Human Relationships 99
The Hurry-up Welcome 102 Friendships in the Future 107 Monday-to-Friday Friends 108 Recruits and Defectors 111 Rent-a-Person 114 How to Lose Friends 116 How Many Friends? 119 Training Children for Turnover 121Chapter 7. ORGANIZATION: THE COMING AD-HOCRACY 124 Catholics, Cliques and Coffee Breaks 126 The Organizational Upheaval 128 The New Ad-hocracy 132 The Collapse of Hierarchy 137 Beyond Bureaucracy 142Chapter 8. INFORMATION: THE KINETIC IMAGE 152 Twiggy and the K-Mesons 155 The Freudian Wave 158 A Blizzard of Best Sellers 161 The Engineered Message 162 Mozart on the Run 166 The Semi-literate Shakespeare 169 Art: Cubists and Kineticists 173 The Neural Investment 177PART THREE: NOVELTY 183Chapter 9. THE SCIENTIFIC TRAJECTORY 185 The New Atlantis 188 Sunlight and Personality 191 The Voice of the Dolphin 193 The Biological Factory 194 The Pre-designed Body 197 The Transient Organ 205 The Cyborgs among Us 209 The Denial of Change 215Chapter 10. THE EXPERIENCE MAKERS 219 The Psychic Cake-Mix 221 "Serving Wenches" in the Sky 224 Experiential Industries 226 Simulated Environments 228 Live Environments 230 The Economics of Sanity 234Chapter 11. THE FRACTURED FAMILY 238 The Mystique of Motherhood 239 The Streamlined Family 241 Bio-Parents and Pro-Parents 243
Communes and Homosexual Daddies 245 The Odds Against Love 249 Temporary Marriage 251 Marriage Trajectories 253 The Demands of Freedom 256PART FOUR: DIVERSITY 261Chapter 12. THE ORIGINS OF OVERCHOICE 263 Design-a-Mustang 264 Computers and Classrooms 270 "Drag Queen" Movies 276Chapter 13. A SURFEIT Of SUBCULTS 284 Scientists and Stockbrokers 286 The Fun Specialists 288 The Youth Ghetto 290 Marital Tribes 293 Hippies, Incorporated 294 Tribal Turnover 296 The Ignoble Savage 299Chapter 14. A DIVERSITY OF LIFE STYLES 303 Motorcyclists and Intellectuals 305 Style-Setters and Mini-Heroes 308 Life-Style Factories 309 The Power of Style 312 A Superabundance of Selves 316 The Free Society 321PART FIVE: THE LIMITS OF ADAPTABILITY 323Chapter 15. FUTURE SHOCK: THE PHYSICAL DIMENSION 325 Life Change and Illness 327 Response to Novelty 334 The Adaptive Reaction 337Chapter 16. FUTURE SHOCK: THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DIMENSION 343 The Overstimulated Individual 344 Bombardment of the Senses 348 Information Overload 350 Decision Stress 355 Victims of Future Shock 358 The Future-shocked Society 365PART SIX: STRATEGIES FOR SURVIVAL 369Chapter 17. COPING WITH TOMORROW 371 Direct Coping 374 Personal Stability Zones 377
Situational Grouping 383 Crisis Counseling 385 Half-way Houses 388 Enclaves of the Past 390 Enclaves of the Future 392 Global Space Pageants 393Chapter 18. EDUCATION IN THE FUTURE TENSE 398 The Industrial Era School 399 The New Educational Revolution 402 The Organizational Attack 405 Yesterdays Curriculum Today 409 A Diversity of Data 411 A System of Skills 413 The Strategy of Futureness 418Chapter 19. TAMING TECHNOLOGY 428 Technological Backlash 430 Selecting Cultural Styles 432 Transistors and Sex 437 A Technology Ombudsman 440 The Environmental Screen 443Chapter 20. THE STRATEGY OF SOCIAL FUTURISM 446 The Death of Technocracy 447 The Humanization of the Planner 452 Time Horizons 458 Anticipatory Democracy 470Acknowledgments 488Notes 490Bibliography 522Index 541
INTRODUCTIONThis is a book about what happens to people when they are overwhelmed by change. It isabout the ways in which we adapt—or fail to adapt—to the future. Much has been writtenabout the future. Yet, for the most part, books about the world to come sound a harsh metallicnote. These pages, by contrast, concern themselves with the "soft" or human side oftomorrow. Moreover, they concern themselves with the steps by which we are likely to reachtomorrow. They deal with common, everyday matters—the products we buy and discard, theplaces we leave behind, the corporations we inhabit, the people who pass at an ever faster clipthrough our lives. The future of friendship and family life is probed. Strange new subculturesand life styles are investigated, along with an array of other subjects from politics andplaygrounds to skydiving and sex. What joins all these—in the book as in life—is the roaring current of change, a currentso powerful today that it overturns institutions, shifts our values and shrivels our roots.Change is the process by which the future invades our lives, and it is important to look at itclosely, not merely from the grand perspectives of history, but also from the vantage point ofthe living, breathing individuals who experience it. The acceleration of change in our time is, itself, an elemental force. This accelerativethrust has personal and psychological, as well as sociological, consequences. In the pagesahead, these effects of acceleration are, for the first time, systematically explored. The bookargues forcefully, I hope, that, unless man quickly learns to control the rate of change in hispersonal affairs as well as in society at large, we are doomed to a massive adaptationalbreakdown. In 1965, in an article in Horizon, I coined the term "future shock" to describe theshattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to toomuch change in too short a time. Fascinated by this concept, I spent the next five yearsvisiting scores of universities, research centers, laboratories, and government agencies,reading countless articles and scientific papers and interviewing literally hundreds of expertson different aspects of change, coping behavior, and the future. Nobel prizewinners, hippies,psychiatrists, physicians, businessmen, professional futurists, philosophers, and educatorsgave voice to their concern over change, their anxieties about adaptation, their fears about thefuture. I came away from this experience with two disturbing convictions. First, it became clear that future shock is no longer a distantly potential danger, but areal sickness from which increasingly large numbers already suffer. This psycho-biologicalcondition can be described in medical and psychiatric terms. It is the disease of change. Second, I gradually came to be appalled by how little is actually known aboutadaptivity, either by those who call for and create vast changes in our society, or by thosewho supposedly prepare us to cope with those changes. Earnest intellectuals talk bravelyabout "educating for change" or "preparing people for the future." But we know virtuallynothing about how to do it. In the most rapidly changing environment to which man has everbeen exposed, we remain pitifully ignorant of how the human animal copes. Our psychologists and politicians alike are puzzled by the seemingly irrationalresistance to change exhibited by certain individuals and groups. The corporation head whowants to reorganize a department, the educator who wants to introduce a new teachingmethod, the mayor who wants to achieve peaceful integration of the races in his city—all, atone time or another, face this blind resistance. Yet we know little about its sources. By thesame token, why do some men hunger, even rage for change, doing all in their power tocreate it, while others flee from it? I not only found no ready answers to such questions, but
discovered that we lack even an adequate theory of adaptation, without which it is extremelyunlikely that we will ever find the answers. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to help us come to terms with the future—to helpus cope more effectively with both personal and social change by deepening ourunderstanding of how men respond to it. Toward this end, it puts forward a broad new theoryof adaptation. It also calls attention to an important, though often overlooked, distinction. Almostinvariably, research into the effects of change concentrate on the destinations toward whichchange carries us, rather than the speed of the journey. In this book, I try to show that the rateof change has implications quite apart from, and sometimes more important than, thedirections of change. No attempt to understand adaptivity can succeed until this fact isgrasped. Any attempt to define the "content" of change must include the consequences ofpace itself as part of that content. William Ogburn, with his celebrated theory of cultural lag, pointed out how socialstresses arise out of the uneven rates of change in different sectors of society. The concept offuture shock—and the theory of adaptation that derives from it—strongly suggests that theremust be balance, not merely between rates of change in different sectors, but between thepace of environmental change and the limited pace of human response. For future shockgrows out of the increasing lag between the two. The book is intended to do more than present a theory, however. It is also intended todemonstrate a method. Previously, men studied the past to shed light on the present. I haveturned the time-mirror around, convinced that a coherent image of the future can also showerus with valuable insights into today. We shall find it increasingly difficult to understand ourpersonal and public problems without making use of the future as an intellectual tool. In thepages ahead, I deliberately exploit this tool to show what it can do. Finally, and by no means least important, the book sets out to change the reader in asubtle yet significant sense. For reasons that will become clear in the pages that follow,successful coping with rapid change will require most of us to adopt a new stance toward thefuture, a new sensitive awareness of the role it plays in the present. This book is designed toincrease the future-consciousness of its reader. The degree to which the reader, after finishingthe book, finds himself thinking about, speculating about, or trying to anticipate futureevents, will provide one measure of its effectiveness. With these ends stated, several reservations are in order. One has to do with theperishability of fact. Every seasoned reporter has had the experience of working on a fast-breaking story that changes its shape and meaning even before his words are put down onpaper. Today the whole world is a fast-breaking story. It is inevitable, therefore, in a bookwritten over the course of several years, that some of its facts will have been supersededbetween the time of research and writing and the time of publication. Professors identifiedwith University A move, in the interim, to University B. Politicians identified with Position Xshift, in the meantime, to Position Y. While a conscientious effort has been made during writing to update Future Shock,some of the facts presented are no doubt already obsolete. (This, of course, is true of manybooks, although authors dont like to talk about it.) The obsolescence of data has a specialsignificance here, however, serving as it does to verify the books own thesis about therapidity of change. Writers have a harder and harder time keeping up with reality. We havenot yet learned to conceive, research, write and publish in "real time." Readers, therefore,must concern themselves more and more with general theme, rather than detail. Another reservation has to do with the verb "will." No serious futurist deals in"predictions." These are left for television oracles and newspaper astrologers. No one evenfaintly familiar with the complexities of forecasting lays claim to absolute knowledge of
tomorrow. In those deliciously ironic words purported to be a Chinese proverb: "To prophesyis extremely difficult—especially with respect to the future." This means that every statement about the future ought, by rights, be accompanied by astring of qualifiers—ifs, ands, buts, and on the other hands. Yet to enter every appropriatequalification in a book of this kind would be to bury the reader under an avalanche ofmaybes. Rather than do this, I have taken the liberty of speaking firmly, without hesitation,trusting that the intelligent reader will understand the stylistic problem. The word "will"should always be read as though it were preceded by "probably" or "in my opinion."Similarly, all dates applied to future events need to be taken with a grain of judgment. The inability to speak with precision and certainty about the future, however, is noexcuse for silence. Where "hard data" are available, of course, they ought to be taken intoaccount. But where they are lacking, the responsible writer—even the scientist—has both aright and an obligation to rely on other kinds of evidence, including impressionistic oranecdotal data and the opinions of well-informed people. I have done so throughout and offerno apology for it. In dealing with the future, at least for the purpose at hand, it is more important to beimaginative and insightful than to be one hundred percent "right." Theories do not have to be"right" to be enormously useful. Even error has its uses. The maps of the world drawn by themedieval cartographers were so hopelessly inaccurate, so filled with factual error, that theyelicit condescending smiles today when almost the entire surface of the earth has beencharted. Yet the great explorers could never have discovered the New World without them.Nor could the better, more accurate maps of today been drawn until men, working with thelimited evidence available to them, set down on paper their bold conceptions of worlds theyhad never seen. We who explore the future are like those ancient mapmakers, and it is in this spirit thatthe concept of future shock and the theory of the adaptive range are presented here—not asfinal word, but as a first approximation of the new realities, filled with danger and promise,created by the accelerative thrust.
Chapter 1 THE 800TH LIFETIMEIn the three short decades between now and the twenty-first century, millions of ordinary,psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future. Citizens of theworlds richest and most technologically advanced nations, many of them will find itincreasingly painful to keep up with the incessant demand for change that characterizes ourtime. For them, the future will have arrived too soon. This book is about change and how we adapt to it. It is about those who seem to thriveon change, who crest its waves joyfully, as well as those multitudes of others who resist it orseek flight from it. It is about our capacity to adapt. It is about the future and the shock thatits arrival brings. Western society for the past 300 years has been caught up in a fire storm of change.This storm, far from abating, now appears to be gathering force. Change sweeps through thehighly industrialized countries with waves of ever accelerating speed and unprecedentedimpact. It spawns in its wake all sorts of curious social flora—from psychedelic churches and"free universities" to science cities in the Arctic and wife-swap clubs in California. It breeds odd personalities, too: children who at twelve are no longer childlike; adultswho at fifty are children of twelve. There are rich men who playact poverty, computerprogrammers who turn on with LSD. There are anarchists who, beneath their dirty denimshirts, are outrageous conformists, and conformists who, beneath their button-down collars,are outrageous anarchists. There are married priests and atheist ministers and Jewish ZenBuddhists. We have pop ... and op ... and art cinétique ... There are Playboy Clubs andhomosexual movie theaters ... amphetamines and tranquilizers ... anger, affluence, andoblivion. Much oblivion. Is there some way to explain so strange a scene without recourse to the jargon ofpsychoanalysis or the murky clichés of existentialism? A strange new society is apparentlyerupting in our midst. Is there a way to understand it, to shape its development? How can wecome to terms with it? Much that now strikes us as incomprehensible would be far less so if we took a freshlook at the racing rate of change that makes reality seem, sometimes, like a kaleidoscope runwild. For the acceleration of change does not merely buffet industries or nations. It is aconcrete force that reaches deep into our personal lives, compels us to act out new roles, andconfronts us with the danger of a new and powerfully upsetting psychological disease. Thisnew disease can be called "future shock," and a knowledge of its sources and symptoms helpsexplain many things that otherwise defy rational analysis. THE UNPREPARED VISITORThe parallel term "culture shock" has already begun to creep into the popular vocabulary.Culture shock is the effect that immersion in a strange culture has on the unprepared visitor.Peace Corps volunteers suffer from it in Borneo or Brazil. Marco Polo probably sufferedfrom it in Cathay. Culture shock is what happens when a traveler suddenly finds himself in a
place where yes may mean no, where a "fixed price" is negotiable, where to be kept waitingin an outer office is no cause for insult, where laughter may signify anger. It is what happenswhen the familiar psychological cues that help an individual to function in society aresuddenly withdrawn and replaced by new ones that are strange or incomprehensible. The culture shock phenomenon accounts for much of the bewilderment, frustration, anddisorientation that plagues Americans in their dealings with other societies. It causes abreakdown in communication, a misreading of reality, an inability to cope. Yet culture shockis relatively mild in comparison with the much more serious malady, future shock. Futureshock is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future. It maywell be the most important disease of tomorrow. Future shock will not be found in Index Medicus or in any listing of psychologicalabnormalities. Yet, unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it, millions of human beingswill find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationallywith their environments. The malaise, mass neurosis, irrationality, and free-floating violencealready apparent in contemporary life are merely a foretaste of what may lie ahead unless wecome to understand and treat this disease. Future shock is a time phenomenon, a product of the greatly accelerated rate of changein society. It arises from the superimposition of a new culture on an old one. It is cultureshock in ones own society. But its impact is far worse. For most Peace Corps men, in factmost travelers, have the comforting knowledge that the culture they left behind will be thereto return to. The victim of future shock does not. Take an individual out of his own culture and set him down suddenly in anenvironment sharply different from his own, with a different set of cues to react to—differentconceptions of time, space, work, love, religion, sex, and everything else—then cut him offfrom any hope of retreat to a more familiar social landscape, and the dislocation he suffers isdoubly severe. Moreover, if this new culture is itself in constant turmoil, and if—worse yet—its values are incessantly changing, the sense of disorientation will be still further intensified.Given few clues as to what kind of behavior is rational under the radically newcircumstances, the victim may well become a hazard to himself and others. Now imagine not merely an individual but an entire society, an entire generation—including its weakest, least intelligent, and most irrational members—suddenly transportedinto this new world. The result is mass disorientation, future shock on a grand scale. This is the prospect that man now faces. Change is avalanching upon our heads andmost people are grotesquely unprepared to cope with it. BREAK WITH THE PASTIs all this exaggerated? I think not. It has become a cliché to say that what we are now livingthrough is a "second industrial revolution." This phrase is supposed to impress us with thespeed and profundity of the change around us. But in addition to being platitudinous, it ismisleading. For what is occurring now is, in all likelihood, bigger, deeper, and moreimportant than the industrial revolution. Indeed, a growing body of reputable opinion assertsthat the present movement represents nothing less than the second great divide in humanhistory, comparable in magnitude only with that first great break in historic continuity, theshift from barbarism to civilization. This idea crops up with increasing frequency in the writings of scientists andtechnologists. Sir George Thomson, the British physicist and Nobel prizewinner, suggests inThe Foreseeable Future that the nearest historic parallel with today is not the industrialrevolution but rather the "invention of agriculture in the neolithic age." John Diebold, the
American automation expert, warns that "the effects of the technological revolution we arenow living through will be deeper than any social change we have experienced before." SirLeon Bagrit, the British computer manufacturer, insists that automation by itself represents"the greatest change in the whole history of mankind." Nor are the men of science and technology alone in these views. Sir Herbert Read, thephilosopher of art, tells us that we are living through "a revolution so fundamental that wemust search many past centuries for a parallel. Possibly the only comparable change is theone that took place between the Old and the New Stone Age ..." And Kurt W. Marek, whounder the name C. W. Ceram is best-known as the author of Gods, Graves and Scholars,observes that "we, in the twentieth century, are concluding an era of mankind five thousandyears in length ... We are not, as Spengler supposed, in the situation of Rome at the beginningof the Christian West, but in that of the year 3000 B.C. We open our eyes like prehistoricman, we see a world totally new." One of the most striking statements of this theme has come from Kenneth Boulding, aneminent economist and imaginative social thinker. In justifying his view that the presentmoment represents a crucial turning point in human history, Boulding observes that "as far asmany statistical series related to activities of mankind are concerned, the date that divideshuman history into two equal parts is well within living memory." In effect, our centuryrepresents The Great Median Strip running down the center of human history. Thus heasserts, "The world of today ... is as different from the world in which I was born as thatworld was from Julius Caesars. I was born in the middle of human history, to date, roughly.Almost as much has happened since I was born as happened before." This startling statement can be illustrated in a number of ways. It has been observed,for example, that if the last 50,000 years of mans existence were divided into lifetimes ofapproximately sixty-two years each, there have been about 800 such lifetimes. Of these 800,fully 650 were spent in caves. Only during the last seventy lifetimes has it been possible to communicate effectivelyfrom one lifetime to another—as writing made it possible to do. Only during the last sixlifetimes did masses of men ever see a printed word. Only during the last four has it beenpossible to measure time with any precision. Only in the last two has anyone anywhere usedan electric motor. And the overwhelming majority of all the material goods we use in dailylife today have been developed within the present, the 800th, lifetime. This 800th lifetime marks a sharp break with all past human experience because duringthis lifetime mans relationship to resources has reversed itself. This is most evident in thefield of economic development. Within a single lifetime, agriculture, the original basis ofcivilization, has lost its dominance in nation after nation. Today in a dozen major countriesagriculture employs fewer than 15 percent of the economically active population. In theUnited States, whose farms feed 200,000,000 Americans plus the equivalent of another160,000,000 people around the world, this figure is already below 6 percent and it is stillshrinking rapidly. Moreover, if agriculture is the first stage of economic development and industrialismthe second, we can now see that still another stage—the third—has suddenly been reached. Inabout 1956 the United States became the first major power in which more than 50 percent ofthe non-farm labor force ceased to wear the blue collar of factory or manual labor. Blue collarworkers were outnumbered by those in the socalled white-collar occupations—in retail trade,administration, communications, research, education, and other service categories. Within thesame lifetime a society for the first time in human history not only threw off the yoke ofagriculture, but managed within a few brief decades to throw off the yoke of manual labor aswell. The worlds first service economy had been born.
Since then, one after another of the technologically advanced countries have moved inthe same direction. Today, in those nations in which agriculture is down to the 15 percentlevel or below, white collars already outnumber blue in Sweden, Britain, Belgium, Canada,and the Netherlands. Ten thousand years for agriculture. A century or two for industrialism.And now, opening before us—super-industrialism. Jean Fourastié, the French planner and social philosopher, has declared that "Nothingwill be less industrial than the civilization born of the industrial revolution." The significanceof this staggering fact has yet to be digested. Perhaps U Thant, Secretary General of theUnited Nations, came closest to summarizing the meaning of the shift to super-industrialismwhen he declared that "The central stupendous truth about developed economies today is thatthey can have—in anything but the shortest run—the kind and scale of resources they decideto have.... It is no longer resources that limit decisions. It is the decision that makes theresources. This is the fundamental revolutionary change—perhaps the most revolutionaryman has ever known." This monumental reversal has taken place in the 800th lifetime. This lifetime is also different from all others because of the astonishing expansion ofthe scale and scope of change. Clearly, there have been other lifetimes in which epochalupheavals occurred. Wars, plagues, earthquakes, and famine rocked many an earlier socialorder. But these shocks and upheavals were contained within the borders of one or a group ofadjacent societies. It took generations, even centuries, for their impact to spread beyond theseborders. In our lifetime the boundaries have burst. Today the network of social ties is so tightlywoven that the consequences of contemporary events radiate instantaneously around theworld. A war in Vietnam alters basic political alignments in Peking, Moscow, andWashington, touches off protests in Stockholm, affects financial transactions in Zurich,triggers secret diplomatic moves in Algiers. Indeed, not only do contemporary events radiate instantaneously—now we can be saidto be feeling the impact of all past events in a new way. For the past is doubling back on us.We are caught in what might be called a "time skip." An event that affected only a handful of people at the time of its occurrence in the pastcan have large-scale consequences today. The Peloponnesian War, for example, was littlemore than a skirmish by modern standards. While Athens, Sparta and several nearby city-states battled, the population of the rest of the globe remained largely unaware of andundisturbed by the war. The Zapotec Indians living in Mexico at the time were whollyuntouched by it. The ancient Japanese felt none of its impact. Yet the Peloponnesian War deeply altered the future course of Greek history. Bychanging the movement of men, the geographical distribution of genes, values, and ideas, itaffected later events in Rome, and, through Rome, all Europe. Todays Europeans are to somesmall degree different people because that conflict occurred. In turn, in the tightly wired world of today, these Europeans influence Mexicans andJapanese alike. Whatever trace of impact the Peloponnesian War left on the genetic structure,the ideas, and the values of todays Europeans is now exported by them to all parts of theworld. Thus todays Mexicans and Japanese feel the distant, twice-removed impact of thatwar even though their ancestors, alive during its occurrence, did not. In this way, the eventsof the past, skipping as it were over generations and centuries, rise up to haunt and change ustoday. When we think not merely of the Peloponnesian War but of the building of the GreatWall of China, the Black Plague, the battle of the Bantu against the Hamites—indeed, of allthe events of the past—the cumulative implications of the time-skip principle take on weight.Whatever happened to some men in the past affects virtually all men today. This was notalways true. In short, all history is catching up with us, and this very difference,
paradoxically, underscores our break with the past. Thus the scope of change isfundamentally altered. Across space and through time, change has a power and reach in this,the 800th lifetime, that it never did before. But the final, qualitative difference between this and all previous lifetimes is the onemost easily overlooked. For we have not merely extended the scope and scale of change, wehave radically altered its pace. We have in our time released a totally new social force—astream of change so accelerated that it influences our sense of time, revolutionizes the tempoof daily life, and affects the very way we "feel" the world around us. We no longer "feel" lifeas men did in the past. And this is the ultimate difference, the distinction that separates thetruly contemporary man from all others. For this acceleration lies behind theimpermanence—the transience—that penetrates and tinctures our consciousness, radicallyaffecting the way we relate to other people, to things, to the entire universe of ideas, art andvalues. To understand what is happening to us as we move into the age of super-industrialism,we must analyze the processes of acceleration and confront the concept of transience. Ifacceleration is a new social force, transience is its psychological counterpart, and without anunderstanding of the role it plays in contemporary human behavior, all our theories ofpersonality, all our psychology, must remain pre-modern. Psychology without the concept oftransience cannot take account of precisely those phenomena that are peculiarlycontemporary. By changing our relationship to the resources that surround us, by violently expandingthe scope of change, and, most crucially, by accelerating its pace, we have brokenirretrievably with the past. We have cut ourselves off from the old ways of thinking, offeeling, of adapting. We have set the stage for a completely new society and we are nowracing toward it. This is the crux of the 800th lifetime. And it is this that calls into questionmans capacity for adaptation—how will he fare in this new society? Can he adapt to itsimperatives? And if not, can he alter these imperatives? Before even attempting to answer such questions, we must focus on the twin forces ofacceleration and transience. We must learn how they alter the texture of existence,hammering our lives and psyches into new and unfamiliar shapes. We must understandhow—and why—they confront us, for the first time, with the explosive potential of futureshock.
Chapter 2 THE ACCELERATIVE THRUSTEarly in March, 1967, in eastern Canada, an eleven-year-old child died of old age. Ricky Gallant was only eleven years old chronologically, but he suffered from an odddisease called progeria—advanced aging—and he exhibited many of the characteristics of aninety-year-old person. The symptoms of progeria are senility, hardened arteries, baldness,slack, and wrinkled skin. In effect, Ricky was an old man when he died, a long lifetime ofbiological change having been packed into his eleven short years. Cases of progeria are extremely rare. Yet in a metaphorical sense the high technologysocieties all suffer from this peculiar ailment. They are not growing old or senile. But theyare experiencing super-normal rates of change. Many of us have a vague "feeling" that things are moving faster. Doctors andexecutives alike complain that they cannot keep up with the latest developments in theirfields. Hardly a meeting or conference takes place today without some ritualistic oratoryabout "the challenge of change." Among many there is an uneasy mood—a suspicion thatchange is out of control. Not everyone, however, shares this anxiety. Millions sleepwalk their way through theirlives as if nothing had changed since the 1930s, and as if nothing ever will. Living in what iscertainly one of the most exciting periods in human history, they attempt to withdraw from it,to block it out, as if it were possible to make it go away by ignoring it. They seek a "separatepeace," a diplomatic immunity from change. One sees them everywhere: Old people, resigned to living out their years, attempting toavoid, at any cost, the intrusions of the new. Already-old people of thirty-five and forty-five,nervous about student riots, sex, LSD, or miniskirts, feverishly attempting to persuadethemselves that, after all, youth was always rebellious, and that what is happening today is nodifferent from the past. Even among the young we find an incomprehension of change:students so ignorant of the past that they see nothing unusal about the present. The disturbing fact is that the vast majority of people, including educated and otherwisesophisticated people, find the idea of change so threatening that they attempt to deny itsexistence. Even many people who understand intellectually that change is accelerating, havenot internalized that knowledge, do not take this critical social fact into account in planningtheir own personal lives. TIME AND CHANGEHow do we know that change is accelerating? There is, after all, no absolute way to measurechange. In the awesome complexity of the universe, even within any given society, a virtuallyinfinite number of streams of change occur simultaneously. All "things"—from the tiniestvirus to the greatest galaxy—are, in reality, not things at all, but processes. There is no staticpoint, no nirvana-like un-change, against which to measure change. Change is, therefore,necessarily relative. It is also uneven. If all processes occurred at the same speed, or even if they acceleratedor decelerated in unison, it would be impossible to observe change. The future, however,invades the present at differing speeds. Thus it becomes possible to compare the speed of
different processes as they unfold. We know, for example, that compared with the biologicalevolution of the species, cultural and social evolution is extremely rapid. We know that somesocieties transform themselves technologically or economically more rapidly than others. Wealso know that different sectors within the same society exhibit different rates of change—thedisparity that William Ogburn labeled "cultural lag." It is precisely the unevenness of changethat makes it measurable. We need, however, a yardstick that makes it possible to compare highly diverseprocesses, and this yardstick is time. Without time, change has no meaning. And withoutchange, time would stop. Time can be conceived as the intervals during which events occur.Just as money permits us to place a value on both apples and oranges, time permits us tocompare unlike processes. When we say that it takes three years to build a dam, we are reallysaying it takes three times as long as it takes the earth to circle the sun or 31,000,000 times aslong as it takes to sharpen a pencil. Time is the currency of exchange that makes it possible tocompare the rates at which very different processes play themselves out. Given the unevenness of change and armed with this yardstick, we still face exhaustingdifficulties in measuring change. When we speak of the rate of change, we refer to thenumber of events crowded into an arbitrarily fixed interval of time. Thus we need to definethe "events." We need to select our intervals with precision. We need to be careful about theconclusions we draw from the differences we observe. Moreover, in the measurement ofchange, we are today far more advanced with respect to physical processes than socialprocesses. We know far better, for example, how to measure the rate at which blood flowsthrough the body than the rate at which a rumor flows through society. Even with all these qualifications, however, there is widespread agreement, reachingfrom historians and archaeologists all across the spectrum to scientists, sociologists,economists and psychologists, that, many social processes are speeding up—strikingly, evenspectacularly. SUBTERRANEAN CITIESPainting with the broadest of brush strokes, biologist Julian Huxley informs us that "Thetempo of human evolution during recorded history is at least 100,000 times as rapid as that ofpre-human evolution." Inventions or improvements of a magnitude that took perhaps 50,000years to accomplish during the early Paleolithic era were, he says, "run through in a meremillennium toward its close; and with the advent of settled civilization, the unit of changesoon became reduced to the century." The rate of change, accelerating throughout the past5000 years, has become, in his words, "particularly noticeable during the past 300 years." C. P. Snow, the novelist and scientist, also comments on the new visibility of change."Until this century ..." he writes, social change was "so slow, that it would pass unnoticed inone persons lifetime. That is no longer so. The rate of change has increased so much that ourimagination cant keep up." Indeed, says social psychologist Warren Bennis, the throttle hasbeen pushed so far forward in recent years that "No exaggeration, no hyperbole, no outragecan realistically describe the extent and pace of change.... In fact, only the exaggerationsappear to be true." What changes justify such super-charged language? Let us look at a few—change in theprocess by which man forms cities, for example. We are now undergoing the most extensiveand rapid urbanization the world has ever seen. In 1850 only four cities on the face of theearth had a population of 1,000,000 or more. By 1900 the number had increased to nineteen.But by 1960, there were 141, and today world urban population is rocketing upward at a rateof 6.5 percent per year, according to Edgar de Vries and J. P. Thysse of the Institute of Social
Science in The Hague. This single stark statistic means a doubling of the earths urbanpopulation within eleven years. One way to grasp the meaning of change on so phenomenal a scale is to imagine whatwould happen if all existing cities, instead of expanding, retained their present size. If thiswere so, in order to accommodate the new urban millions we would have to build a duplicatecity for each of the hundreds that already dot the globe. A new Tokyo, a new Hamburg, anew Rome and Rangoon—and all within eleven years. (This explains why French urbanplanners are sketching subterranean cities—stores, museums, warehouses and factories to bebuilt under the earth, and why a Japanese architect has blueprinted a city to be built on stiltsout over the ocean.) The same accelerative tendency is instantly apparent in mans consumption of energy.Dr. Homi Bhabha, the late Indian atomic scientist who chaired the first InternationalConference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, once analyzed this trend. "To illustrate,"he said, "let us use the letter Q to stand for the energy derived from burning some 33,000million tons of coal. In the eighteen and one half centuries after Christ, the total energyconsumed averaged less than one half Q per century. But by 1850, the rate had risen to one Qper century. Today, the rate is about ten Q per century." This means, roughly speaking, thathalf of all the energy consumed by man in the past 2,000 years has been consumed in the lastone hundred. Also dramatically evident is the acceleration of economic growth in the nations nowracing toward super-industrialism. Despite the fact that they start from a large industrial base,the annual percentage increases in production in these countries are formidable. And the rateof increase is itself increasing. In France, for example, in the twenty-nine years between 1910 and the outbreak of thesecond world war, industrial production rose only 5 percent. Yet between 1948 and 1965, inonly seventeen years, it increased by roughly 220 percent. Today growth rates of from 5 to 10percent per year are not uncommon among the most industrialized nations. There are ups anddowns, of course. But the direction of change has been unmistakable. Thus for the twenty-one countries belonging to the Organization for EconomicCooperation and Development—by and large, the "have" nations—the average annual rate ofincrease in gross national product in the years 1960-1968 ran between 4.5 and 5.0 percent.The United States grew at a rate of 4.5 percent, and Japan led the rest with annual increasesaveraging 9.8 percent. What such numbers imply is nothing less revolutionary than a doubling of the totaloutput of goods and services in the advanced societies about every fifteen years—and thedoubling times are shrinking. This means, generally speaking, that the child reaching teen agein any of these societies is literally surrounded by twice as much of everything newly man-made as his parents were at the time he was an infant. It means that by the time todays teen-ager reaches age thirty, perhaps earlier, a second doubling will have occurred. Within aseventy-year lifetime, perhaps five such doublings will take place—meaning, since theincreases are compounded, that by the time the individual reaches old age the society aroundhim will be producing thirty-two times as much as when he was born. Such changes in the ratio between old and new have, as we shall show, an electricimpact on the habits, beliefs, and self-image of millions. Never in previous history has thisratio been transformed so radically in so brief a flick of time. THE TECHNOLOGICAL ENGINE
Behind such prodigious economic facts lies that great, growling engine of change—technology. This is not to say that technology is the only source of change in society. Socialupheavals can be touched off by a change in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, byalterations in climate, by changes in fertility, and many other factors. Yet technology isindisputably a major force behind the accelerative thrust. To most people, the term technology conjures up images of smoky steel mills orclanking machines. Perhaps the classic symbol of technology is still the assembly line createdby Henry Ford half a century ago and made into a potent social icon by Charlie Chaplin inModern Times. This symbol, however, has always been inadequate, indeed, misleading, fortechnology has always been more than factories and machines. The invention of the horsecollar in the middle ages led to major changes in agricultural methods and was as much atechnological advance as the invention of the Bessemer furnace centuries later. Moreover,technology includes techniques, as well as the machines that may or may not be necessary toapply them. It includes ways to make chemical reactions occur, ways to breed fish, plantforests, light theaters, count votes or teach history. The old symbols of technology are even more misleading today, when the mostadvanced technological processes are carried out far from assembly lines or open hearths.Indeed, in electronics, in space technology, in most of the new industries, relative silence andclean surroundings are characteristic—even sometimes essential. And the assembly line—theorganization of armies of men to carry out simple repetitive functions—is an anachronism. Itis time for our symbols of technology to change—to catch up with the quickening changes intechnology, itself. This acceleration is frequently dramatized by a thumbnail account of the progress intransportation. It has been pointed out, for example, that in 6000 B.C. the fastesttransportation available to man over long distances was the camel caravan, averaging eightmiles per hour. It was not until about 1600 B.C. when the chariot was invented that themaximum speed was raised to roughly twenty miles per hour. So impressive was this invention, so difficult was it to exceed this speed limit, thatnearly 3,500 years later, when the first mail coach began operating in England in 1784, itaveraged a mere ten mph. The first steam locomotive, introduced in 1825, could muster a topspeed of only thirteen mph, and the great sailing ships of the time labored along at less thanhalf that speed. It was probably not until the 1880s that man, with the help of a moreadvanced steam locomotive, managed to reach a speed of one hundred mph. It took thehuman race millions of years to attain that record. It took only fifty-eight years, however, to quadruple the limit, so that by 1938 airborneman was cracking the 400-mph line. It took a mere twenty-year flick of time to double thelimit again. And by the 1960s rocket planes approached speeds of 4000 mph, and men inspace capsules were circling the earth at 18,000 mph. Plotted on a graph, the line representingprogress in the past generation would leap vertically off the page. Whether we examine distances traveled, altitudes reached, minerals mined, or explosivepower harnessed, the same accelerative trend is obvious. The pattern, here and in a thousandother statistical series, is absolutely clear and unmistakable. Millennia or centuries go by, andthen, in our own times, a sudden bursting of the limits, a fantastic spurt forward. The reason for this is that technology feeds on itself. Technology makes moretechnology possible, as we can see if we look for a moment at the process of innovation.Technological innovation consists of three stages, linked together into a self-reinforcingcycle. First, there is the creative, feasible idea. Second, its practical application. Third, itsdiffusion through society.
The process is completed, the loop closed, when the diffusion of technology embodyingthe new idea, in turn, helps generate new creative ideas. Today there is evidence that the timebetween each of the steps in this cycle has been shortened. Thus it is not merely true, as frequently noted, that 90 percent of all the scientists whoever lived are now alive, and that new scientific discoveries are being made every day. Thesenew ideas are put to work much more quickly than ever before. The time between originalconcept and practical use has been radically reduced. This is a striking difference betweenourselves and our ancestors. Appollonius of Perga discovered conic sections, but it was 2000years before they were applied to engineering problems. It was literally centuries between thetime Paracelsus discovered that ether could be used as an anaesthetic and the time it began tobe used for that purpose. Even in more recent times the same pattern of delay was present. In 1836 a machinewas invented that mowed, threshed, tied straw into sheaves and poured grain into sacks. Thismachine was itself based on technology at least twenty years old at the time. Yet it was notuntil a century later, in the 1930s, that such a combine was actually marketed. The firstEnglish patent for a typewriter was issued in 1714. But a century and a half elapsed beforetypewriters became commercially available. A full century passed between the time NicholasAppert discovered how to can food and the time canning became important in the foodindustry. Today such delays between idea and application are almost unthinkable. It is not thatwe are more eager or less lazy than our ancestors, but we have, with the passage of time,invented all sorts of social devices to hasten the process. Thus we find that the time betweenthe first and second stages of the innovative cycle—between idea and application—has beencut radically. Frank Lynn, for example, in studying twenty major innovations, such as frozenfood, antibiotics, integrated circuits and synthetic leather, found that since the beginning ofthis century more than sixty percent has been slashed from the average time needed for amajor scientific discovery to be translated into a useful technological form. Today a vast andgrowing research and development industry is consciously working to reduce the lag stillfurther. But if it takes less time to bring a new idea to the marketplace, it also takes less time forit to sweep through the society. Thus the interval between the second and third stages of thecycle—between application and diffusion—has likewise been sliced, and the pace ofdiffusion is rising with astonishing speed. This is borne out by the history of several familiarhousehold appliances. Robert B. Young at the Stanford Research Institute has studied thespan of time between the first commercial appearance of a new electrical appliance and thetime the industry manufacturing it reaches peak production of the item. Young found that for a group of appliances introduced in the United States before1920—including the vacuum cleaner, the electric range, and the refrigerator—the averagespan between introduction and peak production was thirty-four years. But for a group thatappeared in the 1939-1959 period—including the electric frying pan, television, and washer-dryer combination—the span was only eight years. The lag had shrunk by more than 76percent. "The post-war group," Young declared, "demonstrated vividly the rapidlyaccelerating nature of the modern cycle." The stepped-up pace of invention, exploitation, and diffusion, in turn, accelerates thewhole cycle still further. For new machines or techniques are not merely a product, but asource, of fresh creative ideas. Each new machine or technique, in a sense, changes all existing machines andtechniques, by permitting us to put them together into new combinations. The number ofpossible combinations rises exponentially as the number of new machines or techniques rises
arithmetically. Indeed, each new combination may, itself, be regarded as a new super-machine. The computer, for example, made possible a sophisticated space effort. Linked withsensing devices, communications equipment, and power sources, the computer became partof a configuration that in aggregate forms a single new super-machine—a machine forreaching into and probing outer space. But for machines or techniques to be combined in newways, they have to be altered, adapted, refined or otherwise changed. So that the very effortto integrate machines into super-machines compels us to make still further technologicalinnovations. It is vital to understand, moreover, that technological innovation does not merelycombine and recombine machines and techniques. Important new machines do more thansuggest or compel changes in other machines—they suggest novel solutions to social,philosophical, even personal problems. They alter mans total intellectual environment—theway he thinks and looks at the world. We all learn from our environment, scanning it constantly—though perhapsunconsciously—for models to emulate. These models are not only other people. They are,increasingly, machines. By their presence, we are subtly conditioned to think along certainlines. It has been observed, for example, that the clock came along before the Newtonianimage of the world as a great clock-like mechanism, a philosophical notion that has had theutmost impact on mans intellectual development. Implied in this image of the cosmos as agreat clock were ideas about cause and effect and about the importance of external, as againstinternal, stimuli, that shape the everyday behavior of all of us today. The clock also affectedour conception of time so that the idea that a day is divided into twenty-four equal segmentsof sixty minutes each has become almost literally a part of us. Recently, the computer has touched off a storm of fresh ideas about man as aninteracting part of larger systems, about his physiology, the way he learns, the way heremembers, the way he makes decisions. Virtually every intellectual discipline from politicalscience to family psychology has been hit by a wave of imaginative hypotheses triggered bythe invention and diffusion of the computer—and its full impact has not yet struck. And sothe innovative cycle, feeding on itself, speeds up. If technology, however, is to be regarded as a great engine, a mighty accelerator, thenknowledge must be regarded as its fuel. And we thus come to the crux of the accelerativeprocess in society, for the engine is being fed a richer and richer fuel every day. KNOWLEDGE AS FUELThe rate at which man has been storing up useful knowledge about himself and the universehas been spiraling upward for 10,000 years. The rate took a sharp upward leap with theinvention of writing, but even so it remained painfully slow over centuries of time. The nextgreat leap forward in knowledge—acquisition did not occur until the invention of movabletype in the fifteenth century by Gutenberg and others. Prior to 1500, by the most optimisticestimates, Europe was producing books at a rate of 1000 titles per year. This means, give ortake a bit, that it would take a full century to produce a library of 100,000 titles. By 1950,four and a half centuries later, the rate had accelerated so sharply that Europe was producing120,000 titles a year. What once took a century now took only ten months. By 1960, a singledecade later, the rate had made another significant jump, so that a centurys work could becompleted in seven and a half months. And, by the mid-sixties, the output of books on aworld scale, Europe included, approached the prodigious figure of 1000 titles per day.
One can hardly argue that every book is a net gain for the advancement of knowledge.Nevertheless, we find that the accelerative curve in book publication does, in fact, crudelyparallel the rate at which man discovered new knowledge. For example, prior to Gutenbergonly 11 chemical elements were known. Antimony, the 12th, was discovered at about thetime he was working on his invention. It was fully 200 years since the 11th, arsenic, had beendiscovered. Had the same rate of discovery continued, we would by now have added onlytwo or three additional elements to the periodic table since Gutenberg. Instead, in the 450years after his time, some seventy additional elements were discovered. And since 1900 wehave been isolating the remaining elements not at a rate of one every two centuries, but ofone every three years. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that the rate is still rising sharply. Today, forexample, the number of scientific journals and articles is doubling, like industrial productionin the advanced countries, about every fifteen years, and according to biochemist PhilipSiekevitz, "what has been learned in the last three decades about the nature of living beingsdwarfs in extent of knowledge any comparable period of scientific discovery in the history ofmankind." Today the United States government alone generates 100,000 reports each year,plus 450,000 articles, books and papers. On a worldwide basis, scientific and technicalliterature mounts at a rate of some 60,000,000 pages a year. The computer burst upon the scene around 1950. With its unprecedented power foranalysis and dissemination of extremely varied kinds of data in unbelievable quantities and atmind-staggering speeds, it has become a major force behind the latest acceleration inknowledge-acquisition. Combined with other increasingly powerful analytical tools forobserving the invisible universe around us, it has raised the rate of knowledge-acquisition todumbfounding speeds. Francis Bacon told us that "Knowledge ... is power." This can now be translated intocontemporary terms. In our social setting, "Knowledge is change"—and acceleratingknowledge-acquisition, fueling the great engine of technology, means accelerating change. THE FLOW OF SITUATIONSDiscovery. Application. Impact. Discovery. We see here a chain reaction of change, a long,sharply rising curve of acceleration in human social development. This accelerative thrust hasnow reached a level at which it can no longer, by any stretch of the imagination, be regardedas "normal." The normal institutions of industrial society can no longer contain it, and itsimpact is shaking up all our social institutions. Acceleration is one of the most important andleast understood of all social forces. This, however, is only half the story. For the speed-up of change is a psychologicalforce as well. Although it has been almost totally ignored by psychology, the rising rate ofchange in the world around us disturbs our inner equilibrium, altering the very way in whichwe experience life. Acceleration without translates into acceleration within. This can be illustrated, though in a highly oversimplified fashion, if we think of anindividual life as a great channel through which experience flows. This flow of experienceconsists—or is conceived of consisting—of innumerable "situations." Acceleration of changein the surrounding society drastically alters the flow of situations through this channel. There is no neat definition of a situation, yet we would find it impossible to cope withexperience if we did not mentally cut it up into these manageable units. Moreover, while theboundary lines between situations may be indistinct, every situation has a certain"wholeness" about it, a certain integration. Every situation also has certain identifiablecomponents. These include "things"—a physical setting of natural or man-made objects.
Every situation occurs in a "place"—a location or arena within which the action occurs. (It isnot accidental that the Latin root "situ" means place.) Every social situation also has, bydefinition, a cast of characters—people. Situations also involve a location in theorganizational network of society and a context of ideas or information. Any situation can beanalyzed in terms of these five components. But situations also involve a separate dimension which, because it cuts across all theothers, is frequently overlooked. This is duration—the span of time over which the situationoccurs. Two situations alike in all other respects are not the same at all if one lasts longerthan another. For time enters into the mix in a crucial way, changing the meaning or contentof situations. Just as the funeral march played at too high a speed becomes a merry tinkle ofsounds, so a situation that is dragged out has a distinctly different flavor or meaning than onethat strikes us in staccato fashion, erupting suddenly and subsiding as quickly. Here, then, is the first delicate point at which the accelerative thrust in the larger societycrashes up against the ordinary daily experience of the contemporary individual. For theacceleration of change, as we shall show, shortens the duration of many situations. This notonly drastically alters their "flavor," but hastens their passage through the experientialchannel. Compared with life in a less rapidly changing society, more situations now flowthrough the channel in any given interval of time—and this implies profound changes inhuman psychology. For while we tend to focus on only one situation at a time, the increased rate at whichsituations flow past us vastly complicates the entire structure of life, multiplying the numberof roles we must play and the number of choices we are forced to make. This, in turn,accounts for the choking sense of complexity about contemporary life. Moreover, the speeded-up flow-through of situations demands much more work fromthe complex focusing mechanisms by which we shift our attention from one situation toanother. There is more switching back and forth, less time for extended, peaceful attention toone problem or situation at a time. This is what lies behind the vague feeling noted earlierthat "Things are moving faster." They are. Around us. And through us. There is, however, still another, even more powerfully significant way in which theacceleration of change in society increases the difficulty of coping with life. This stems fromthe fantastic intrusion of novelty, newness into our existence. Each situation is unique. Butsituations often resemble one another. This, in fact, is what makes it possible to learn fromexperience. If each situation were wholly novel, without some resemblance to previouslyexperienced situations, our ability to cope would be hopelessly crippled. The acceleration of change, however, radically alters the balance between novel andfamiliar situations. Rising rates of change thus compel us not merely to cope with a fasterflow, but with more and more situations to which previous personal experience does notapply. And the psychological implications of this simple fact, which we shall explore later inthis book, are nothing short of explosive. "When things start changing outside, you are going to have a parallel change takingplace inside," says Christopher Wright of the Institute for the Study of Science in HumanAffairs. The nature of these inner changes is so profound, however, that, as the accelerativethrust picks up speed, it will test our ability to live within the parameters that have until nowdefined man and society. In the words of psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, "In our society atpresent, the natural course of events is precisely that the rate of change should continue toaccelerate up to the as-yet-unreached limits of human and institutional adaptability." To survive, to avert what we have termed future shock, the individual must becomeinfinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before. He must search out totally new waysto anchor himself, for all the old roots—religion, nation, community, family, or profession—are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust. Before he can do so,
however, he must understand in greater detail how the effects of acceleration penetrate hispersonal life, creep into his behavior and alter the quality of existence. He must, in otherwords, understand transience.
Chapter 3 THE PACE OF LIFEHis picture was, until recently, everywhere: on television, on posters that stared out at one inairports and railroad stations, on leaflets, matchbooks and magazines. He was an inspiredcreation of Madison Avenue—a fictional character with whom millions could subconsciouslyidentify. Young and clean-cut, he carried an attaché case, glanced at his watch, and lookedlike an ordinary businessman scurrying to his next appointment. He had, however, anenormous protuberance on his back. For sticking out from between his shoulder blades was agreat, butterfly-shaped key of the type used to wind up mechanical toys. The text thataccompanied his picture urged keyed-up executives to "unwind"—to slow down—at theSheraton Hotels. This wound-up man-on-the-go was, and still is, a potent symbol of thepeople of the future, millions of whom feel just as driven and hurried as if they, too, had ahuge key in the back. The average individual knows little and cares less about the cycle of technologicalinnovation or the relationship between knowledge-acquisition and the rate of change. He is,on the other hand, keenly aware of the pace of his own life—whatever that pace may be. The pace of life is frequently commented on by ordinary people. Yet, oddly enough, ithas received almost no attention from either psychologists or sociologists. This is a gapinginadequacy in the behavioral sciences, for the pace of life profoundly influences behavior,evoking strong and contrasting reactions from different people. It is, in fact, not too much to say that the pace of life draws a line through humanity,dividing us into camps, triggering bitter misunderstanding between parent and child, betweenMadison Avenue and Main Street, between men and women, between American andEuropean, between East and West. PEOPLE OF THE FUTUREThe inhabitants of the earth are divided not only by race, nation, religion or ideology, butalso, in a sense, by their position in time. Examining the present populations of the globe, wefind a tiny group who still live, hunting and food-foraging, as men did millennia ago. Others,the vast majority of mankind, depend not on bear-hunting or berry-picking, but onagriculture. They live, in many respects, as their ancestors did centuries ago. These twogroups taken together compose perhaps 70 percent of all living human beings. They are thepeople of the past. By contrast, somewhat more than 2.5 percent of the earths population can be found inthe industrialized societies. They lead modern lives. They are products of the first half of thetwentieth century, molded by mechanization and mass education, brought up with lingeringmemories of their own countrys agricultural past. They are, in effect, the people of thepresent. The remaining two or three percent of the worlds population, however, are no longerpeople of either the past or present. For within the main centers of technological and culturalchange, in Santa Monica, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts, in New York andLondon and Tokyo, are millions of men and women who can already be said to be living theway of life of the future. Trendmakers often without being aware of it, they live today asmillions more will live tomorrow. And while they account for only a few percent of the
global population today, they already form an international nation of the future in our midst.They are the advance agents of man, the earliest citizens of the world-wide super-industrialsociety now in the throes of birth. What makes them different from the rest of mankind? Certainly, they are richer, bettereducated, more mobile than the majority of the human race. They also live longer. But whatspecifically marks the people of the future is the fact that they are already caught up in a new,stepped-up pace of life. They "live faster" than the people around them. Some people are deeply attracted to this highly accelerated pace of life—going far outof their way to bring it about and feeling anxious, tense or uncomfortable when the paceslows. They want desperately to be "where the action is." (Indeed, some hardly care what theaction is, so long as it occurs at a suitably rapid clip.) James A. Wilson has found, forexample, that the attraction for a fast pace of life is one of the hidden motivating forcesbehind the much publicized "brain-drain"—the mass migration of European scientists to theUnited States and Canada. After studying 517 English scientists and engineers who migrated,Wilson concluded that it was not higher salaries or better research facilities alone, but also thequicker tempo that lured them. The migrants, he writes, "are not put off by what they indicateas the faster pace of North America; if anything, they appear to prefer this pace to others."Similarly, a white veteran of the civil rights movement in Mississippi reports: "People whoare used to a speeded-up urban life ... cant take it for long in the rural South. Thats whypeople are always driving somewhere for no particular reason. Traveling is the drug of TheMovement." Seemingly aimless, this driving about is a compensation mechanism.Understanding the powerful attraction that a certain pace of life can exert on the individualhelps explain much otherwise inexplicable or "aimless" behavior. But if some people thrive on the new, rapid pace, others are fiercely repelled by it andgo to extreme lengths to "get off the merry-go-round," as they put it. To engage at all with theemergent super-industrial society means to engage with a faster moving world than everbefore. They prefer to disengage, to idle at their own speed. It is not by chance that a musicalentitled Stop the World—I Want to Get Off was a smash hit in London and New York a fewseasons ago. The quietism and search for new ways to "opt out" or "cop out" that characterizescertain (though not all) hippies may be less motivated by their loudly expressed aversion forthe values of a technological civilization than by an unconscious effort to escape from a paceof life that many find intolerable. It is no coincidence that they describe society as a "rat-race"—a term that refers quite specifically to pacing. Older people are even more likely to react strongly against any further acceleration ofchange. There is a solid mathematical basis for the observation that age often correlates withconservatism: time passes more swiftly for the old. When a fifty-year-old father tells his fifteen-year-old son that he will have to wait twoyears before he can have a car of his own, that interval of 730 days represents a mere 4percent of the fathers lifetime to date. It represents over 13 percent of the boys lifetime. It ishardly strange that to the boy the delay seems three or four times longer than to the father.Similarly, two hours in the life of a four-year-old may be the felt equivalent of twelve hoursin the life of her twenty-four-year-old mother. Asking the child to wait two hours for a pieceof candy may be the equivalent of asking the mother to wait fourteen hours for a cup ofcoffee. There may be a biological basis as well, for such differences in subjective response totime. "With advancing age," writes psychologist John Cohen of the University ofManchester, "the calendar years seem progressively to shrink. In restrospect every year seemsshorter than the year just completed, possibly as a result of the gradual slowing down of
metabolic processes." In relation to the slowdown of their own biological rhythms, the worldwould appear to be moving faster to older people, even if it were not. Whatever the reasons, any acceleration of change that has the effect of crowding moresituations into the experiential channel in a given interval is magnified in the perception ofthe older person. As the rate of change in society speeds up, more and more older people feelthe difference keenly. They, too, become dropouts, withdrawing into a private environment,cutting off as many contacts as possible with the fast-moving outside world, and, finally,vegetating until death. We may never solve the psychological problems of the aged until wefind the means—through biochemistry or re-education—to alter their time sense, or toprovide structured enclaves for them in which the pace of life is controlled, and even,perhaps, regulated according to a "sliding scale" calendar that reflects their own subjectiveperception of time. Much otherwise incomprehensible conflict—between generations, between parents andchildren, between husbands and wives—can be traced to differential responses to theacceleration of the pace of life. The same is true of clashes between cultures. Each culture has its own characteristic pace. F. M. Esfandiary, the Iranian novelist andessayist, tells of a collision between two different pacing systems when German engineers inthe pre-World War II period were helping to construct a railroad in his country. Iranians andMiddle Easterners generally take a far more relaxed attitude toward time than Americans orWestern Europeans. When Iranian work crews consistently showed up for work ten minuteslate, the Germans, themselves super-punctual and always in a hurry, fired them in droves.Iranian engineers had a difficult time persuading them that by Middle Eastern standards theworkers were being heroically punctual, and that if the firings continued there would soon beno one left to do the work but women and children. This indifference to time can be maddening to those who are fast-paced and clock-conscious. Thus Italians from Milan or Turin, the industrial cities of the North, look downupon the relatively slow-paced Sicilians, whose lives are still geared to the slower rhythms ofagriculture. Swedes from Stockholm or Göteborg feel the same way about Laplanders.Americans speak with derision of Mexicans for whom mañana is soon enough. In the UnitedStates itself, Northerners regard Southerners as slow-moving, and middle-class Negroescondemn working-class Negroes just up from the South for operating on "C.P.T."—ColoredPeoples Time. In contrast, by comparison with almost anyone else, white Americans andCanadians are regarded as hustling, fast-moving go-getters. Populations sometimes actively resist a change of pace. This explains the pathologicalantagonism toward what many regard as the "Americanization" of Europe. The newtechnology on which super-industrialism is based, much of it blue-printed in Americanresearch laboratories, brings with it an inevitable acceleration of change in society and aconcomitant speed-up of the pace of individual life as well. While anti-American oratorssingle out computers or Coca-Cola for their barbs, their real objection may well be to theinvasion of Europe by an alien time sense. America, as the spearhead of super-industrialism,represents a new, quicker, and very much unwanted tempo. Precisely this issue is symbolized by the angry outcry that has greeted the recentintroduction of American-style drugstores in Paris. To many Frenchmen, their existence isinfuriating evidence of a sinister "cultural imperialism" on the part of the United States. It ishard for Americans to understand so passionate a response to a perfectly innocent sodafountain. What explains it is the fact that at Le Drugstore the thirsty Frenchman gulps a hastymilkshake instead of lingering for an hour or two over an aperitif at an outdoor bistro. It isworth noticing that, as the new technology has spread in recent years, some 30,000 bistroshave padlocked their doors for good, victims, in the words of Time magazine, of a "short-order culture." (Indeed, it may well be that the widespread European dislike for Time, itself,
is not entirely political, but stems unconsciously from the connotation of its title. Time, withits brevity and breathless style, exports more than the American Way of Life. It embodies andexports the American Pace of Life.) DURATIONAL EXPECTANCYTo understand why acceleration in the pace of life may prove disruptive and uncomfortable,it is important to grasp the idea of "durational expectancies." Mans perception of time is closely linked with his internal rhythms. But his responsesto time are culturally conditioned. Part of this conditioning consists of building up within thechild a series of expectations about the duration of events, processes or relationships. Indeed,one of the most important forms of knowledge that we impart to a child is a knowledge ofhow long things last. This knowledge is taught, in subtle, informal and often unconsciousways. Yet without a rich set of socially appropriate durational expectancies, no individualcould function successfully. From infancy on the child learns, for example, that when Daddy leaves for work in themorning, it means that he will not return for many hours. (If he does, something is wrong; theschedule is askew. The child senses this. Even the family dog—having also learned a set ofdurational expectancies—is aware of the break in routine.) The child soon learns that"mealtime" is neither a one-minute nor a five-hour affair, but that it ordinarily lasts fromfifteen minutes to an hour. He learns that going to a movie lasts two to four hours, but that avisit with the pediatrician seldom lasts more than one. He learns that the school dayordinarily lasts six hours. He learns that a relationship with a teacher ordinarily extends overa school year, but that his relationship with his grandparents is supposed to be of much longerduration. Indeed, some relationships are supposed to last a lifetime. In adult behavior,virtually all we do, from mailing an envelope to making love, is premised upon certainspoken or unspoken assumptions about duration. It is these durational expectancies, different in each society but learned early and deeplyingrained, that are shaken up when the pace of life is altered. This explains a crucial difference between those who suffer acutely from theaccelerated pace of life and those who seem rather to thrive on it. Unless an individual hasadjusted his durational expectancies to take account of continuing acceleration, he is likely tosuppose that two situations, similar in other respects, will also be similar in duration. Yet theaccelerative thrust implies that at least certain kinds of situations will be compressed in time. The individual who has internalized the principle of acceleration—who understands inhis bones as well as his brain that things are moving faster in the world around him—makesan automatic, unconscious compensation for the compression of time. Anticipating thatsituations will endure less long, he is less frequently caught off guard and jolted than theperson whose durational expectancies are frozen, the person who does not routinelyanticipate a frequent shortening in the duration of situations. In short, the pace of life must be regarded as something more than a colloquial phrase, asource of jokes, sighs, complaints or ethnic put-downs. It is a crucially importantpsychological variable that has been all but ignored. During past eras, when change in theouter society was slow, men could, and did, remain unaware of this variable. Throughoutones entire lifetime the pace might vary little. The accelerative thrust, however, alters thisdrastically. For it is precisely through a step-up in the pace of life that the increased speed ofbroad scientific, technological and social change makes itself felt in the life of the individual.A great deal of human behavior is motivated by attraction or antagonism toward the pace oflife enforced on the individual by the society or group within which he is embedded. Failure
to grasp this principle lies behind the dangerous incapacity of education and psychology toprepare people for fruitful roles in a super-industrial society. THE CONCEPT OF TRANSIENCEMuch of our theorizing about social and psychological change presents a valid picture of manin relatively static societies—but a distorted and incomplete picture of the truly contemporaryman. It misses a critical difference between the men of the past or present and the men of thefuture. This difference is summed up in the word "transience." The concept of transience provides a long-missing link between sociological theories ofchange and the psychology of individual human beings. Integrating both, it permits us toanalyze the problems of high-speed change in a new way. And, as we shall see, it gives us amethod—crude but powerful—to measure inferentially the rate of situation flow. Transience is the new "temporariness" in everyday life. It results in a mood, a feeling ofimpermanence. Philosophers and theologians, of course, have always been aware that man isephemeral. In this grand sense, transience has always been a part of life. But today the feelingof impermanence is more acute and intimate. Thus Edward Albees character, Jerry, in TheZoo Story, characterizes himself as a "permanent transient." And critic Harold Clurman,commenting on Albee, writes: "None of us occupy abodes of safety—true homes. We are allthe same people in all the rooming houses everywhere, desperately and savagely trying toeffect soul-satisfying connections with our neighbors." We are, in fact, all citizens of the Ageof Transience. It is, however, not only our relationships with people that seem increasingly fragile orimpermanent. If we divide up mans experience of the world outside himself, we can identifycertain classes of relationships. Thus, in addition to his links with other people, we may speakof the individuals relationship with things. We can single out for examination hisrelationships with places. We can analyze his ties to the institutional or organizationalenvironment around him. We can even study his relationship to certain ideas or to theinformation flow in society. These five relationships—plus time—form the fabric of social experience. This is why,as suggested earlier, things, places, people, organizations and ideas are the basic componentsof all situations. It is the individuals distinctive relationship to each of these components thatstructures the situation. And it is precisely these relationships that, as acceleration occurs in society, becomeforeshortened, telescoped in time. Relationships that once endured for long spans of time nowhave shorter life expectancies. It is this abbreviation, this compression, that gives rise to thealmost tangible feeling that we live, rootless and uncertain, among shifting dunes. Transience, indeed, can be defined quite specifically in terms of the rate at which ourrelationships turn over. While it may be difficult to prove that situations, as such, take lesstime to pass through our experience than before, it is possible to break them down into theircomponents, and to measure the rate at which these components move into and out of ourlives—to measure, in other words, the duration of relationships. It will help us understand the concept of transience if we think in terms of the idea of"turnover." In a grocery store, for example, milk turns over more rapidly than, say, cannedasparagus. It is sold and replaced more rapidly. The "through-put" is faster. The alertbusinessman knows the turnover rate for each of the items he sells, and the general rate forthe entire store. He knows, in fact, that his turnover rate is a key indicator of the health of theenterprise.
We can, by analogy, think of transience as the rate of turnover of the different kinds ofrelationships in an individuals life. Moreover, each of us can be characterized in terms of thisrate. For some, life is marked by a much slower rate of turnover than for others. The peopleof the past and present lead lives of relatively "low transience"—their relationships tend to belonglasting. But the people of the future live in a condition of "high transience"—a conditionin which the duration of relationships is cut short, the through-put of relationships extremelyrapid. In their lives, things, places, people, ideas, and organizational structures all get "usedup" more quickly. This affects immensely the way they experience reality, their sense of commitment, andtheir ability—or inability—to cope. It is this fast through-put, combined with increasingnewness and complexity in the environment, that strains the capacity to adapt and creates thedanger of future shock. If we can show that our relationships with the outer world are, in fact, growing moreand more transient, we have powerful evidence for the assumption that the flow of situationsis speeding up. And we have an incisive new way of looking at ourselves and others. Let us,therefore, explore life in a high transience society.